Well, the day has come and gone and it was a wonderful experience. I met with a number of educators and had a great time learning from each of the presenters. I’d like to highlight what I thought the big points were from each of the sessions I attended and then have some final thoughts about the conference and where I’m going to take my focus next.
Social Media: @shannonmmiller
This was the session I started my day out with, mainly because as we look to the future of education, there is a global context that we have to address in education. I think social media is one way we can accomodate the need for global connectedness and global presence in education, so what better way to learn about social media than from the queen of social media herself, @shannonmmiller. I’ve been interested in #VanMeter‘s story for a long time but haven’t had an opportunity to really listen and see what they are doing in their district that is so special. What I saw was truly something special. It wasn’t the computers or the software they were using, but what they were doing with the computers and software that caught my eye. From using Facebook pages with students, to creating Flickr clubs around student interests, to having students interact with other young people across the US, @shannonmmiller highlighted how the #VanMeter teachers and students had knocked down the four walls of their school to interact and learn with others from around the world.
What I liked about this session was how @shannonmmiller discussed the implementation or the process they went through to create these opportunities for their students. By process I don’t mean step-by-step directions for replicating this in your school, but rather the intellectual process. A few comments that stood out were: “There are a number of reasons why we shouldn’t use social media, but do those reasons outweigh the benefits of using them?” “If there is a problem with a Facebook page, most likely administrators will be able to find out who posted the comment and take care of the problem rather than ending the entire project,” “Sometimes it takes a little hand holding to help teachers try something new in the classroom,” “Students have a love-hate relationship when using social media in education, which needs to be taken into consideration when using social media in a course,” and finally, “If you want to interact with someone using social media…just ask. They are there to learn with you and will likely be willing to arrange some time to talk with you and your class.” My big take away from this session is not that we need to unblock social media sites, but rather, we need to begin talking about how we can create opportunities for students to interact on a global scale, so they can become a global citizen which will be crucial for living and learning in the century ahead of us.
I thought this was a fun session. Matt and Russ had a very engaging and interesting presentation about why we need to stop summatively assessing students and begin assessing our students more for mastery using more formative assessments. Matt and Russ introduced competency-based grading, which appears to be an interesting approach to assessing students, but I wonder if that means eliminating summative assessment entirely. (Note: I just want to point out that I know very little about competency-based grading so if I make a huge misstatement, please correct me.)
I was able to identify with the situation they presented where a relatively young teacher grades purely using summative assessments, never taking time to see if students understand the content. The “I taught it so you should have learned it” concept was highlighted which I think is true for many teachers. I know I’ve been in that situation in the past. As the skit progressed, they introduced formative assessment and how it benefits students by letting them know where they are and how they can improve to meet mastery standards. What resonated with me was when one of them said, “We need to be more interested in student learning rather than when they learned it.” We shouldn’t be assessing their compliance, but rather their learning which is something I feel many teachers don’t do. “Teachers need to stop hiding behind points,” was another statement I thought made a lot of sense, because we often give students that zero for not completing an assignment, which sends the signal that we don’t care that you didn’t do the homework and then we move on. I think most teachers went into education because they care about students and want to help others succeed, but at some point our purpose has changed and we lose focus of our true mission and passions. I think that is what this session was about. Using formative assessment to show students that we care about them and want to help them learn. Formative assessment isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.
Higher Ed Listens: Dr. Mary Herring, Dr. Leigh Zeitz, Robin Galloway, Megan Balong, and Dan Mourlam
This was my first session as a presenter at a conference and was a bit exciting. It was different than I expected, likely because there were fewer people than we anticipated, but that’s okay. We have to start the conversation somewhere and the conversation we had was a great one. The goal of this session was to have practicing teachers and administrators in one-to-one laptop districts help higher ed identify what is necessary to be prepared to teach in a one-to-one school. With so many school districts going one-to-one in the next year in Iowa, we wanted to bring to the forefront the implications for higher ed and pre-service education.
I haven’t looked at the session notes yet, but what stands out most to me was that higher ed institutions need to be more involved in PK-12 education. This means both faculty and students going out to these schools that are being innovative, especially when there are a large number of districts all doing the same thing. To me, this means changing our methods experience for in our pre-service programs, but how do we do this with 2500 students? I refuse to think that we can’t change due to the large number of students enrolled in our program, but I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel. With the grant project we are working at at UNI, one piece is creating virtual field placements/observations for our students, so hopefully the work we do with the grant will appeal directly to this gap that is forming between what many Iowa schools are doing with technology and the skills new teachers have once they enter the profession.
The role alike session was new to me. I’ve never been in one of these sessions in the past and the one I went to was for technology coordinators. The session didn’t start out very well as most everyone in the room just sat around talking. One of my colleagues came up to me and asked what we are supposed to do and I decided to sieze the opportunity to work on my leadership skills. So I hopped up, plugged my laptop into the projector and grabbed the mic and started talking. It was a bit awkward at first, but after a few minutes the people in the room started opening up and talking about questions they had and things they thought was interesting. I didn’t have any agenda for the session and did it just because I thought it would be fun, which it was. The discussions centered around troubleshooting related to networking, servers, firewalls, etc. Most of what you would expect technology coordinators to talk about.
There was one thing I was a bit disappointed about in this session, which was the extent to which many of the tech coordinators didn’t seem too interested in talking about learning as much as they were interested in talking about why we shouldn’t do something. I didn’t want to capitalize the session and push the envelop too much since I don’t think that was the intention of the role alike, but there are a couple things that bothered me that I want to share. The first thing that truly bothered me was that this conversation wasn’t about education. I don’t mind talking about servers and networking if it is in the context of making greater educational goals happen, but this wasn’t the case. It seemed like in a group of technology coordinators from schools that give all their students some kind of mobile computing device there would be discussions about how to solve problems that restrict greater learning from taking place. This wasn’t the case though. The focus wasn’t on enhancing, but rather maintaining. Very little innovativeness for making greater learning possible.
The other thing that bothered me about this session were the number of excuses for not doing something. Bandwidth limitations, students will abuse it, teachers aren’t using it, etc. These are poor excuses for not being a change agent in your school. I feel technology coordinators have a very special position in schools to help make change happen, but often that position isn’t embraced. This was the feeling I had yesterday, which disappointed me a little. It’s possible that the people who capitalized the conversation were the only voices heard and thus limit my perception to an extent, but I think it is time to stop hiding behind excuses for not doing something and to start making positive change happen in your district.
Oh, and by the way, if your teachers have access to a tool like Facebook but aren’t using it, that isn’t a reason to block the site. It’s a reason to have professional development so teachers can understand the benefits of using the technology and create amazing opportunities for their students. Refusing to accept the need for professional development and support is a lack of vision as well as a lack of leadership, because as a technology coordinator you have a responsibility to lead from an educational perspective, not a controlling perspective. Just needed to get that off my chest!
What Are the Students Doing? @mcleod
I thought this was the best session of the day, because it brought to the forefront why we have one-to-one initiatives: to increase student learning. The session started by having us talk about what learning is and how we define it, but then began to progress to whether or not we need to define learning and how as a group we define learning and subsequently assess it. I had my own assumptions and opinions about what learning is and how we can assess it, but where the value came out was when @mcleod brought us to a close and said, “Technology does not equal learning.” A simple statement that most of use agree with, but don’t always practice. By giving all my students a laptop I cannot expect them to learn more. It’s what we do with those laptops that will determine if they learn more or less.
@mcleod ended by asking a few questions that we need to talk about back home. There were two that stood out to me and is how I am going to leave you today:
- What kind of support do teachers need in order to have the type of learning and teaching we want to see take place?
- How will the use of laptops improve student learning?